Shirred Circus Dress

 The inspiration for this whole circus party stemmed from the yellow and white fat quarter that I used in this shirred circus dress.  I carried that striped fabric around the store, holding it up to bolts of fabric, until I found the blue floral print – a match!  This dress is great because you can sew it up in less than an hour and it takes a relatively small amount of fabric.  I recommend pairing two contrasting patterns and colors.

  I’ve put together a tutorial for you and I’ll give you the measurements that I used.  The pictures and instructions correspond to a second dress that I made, hence the red skirt; this one is about a size 5.  (I actually didn’t like how the second dress turned out – the prints on the fabric were too similar in size – I separated them and ended up with the cutest shirt for Olivia, and I’ll sew the red dot into a skirt.)  This is going to be an “adjust for your child” sort of sizing, okay?  I’m estimating that the circus dress turned out to be about a size 12-18 months and I’ll give you the measurements that I used to help you guesstimate your own sizing.

Size 12-18 months
Cut two skirt pieces (by halving a fat quarter) – 21″ wide x 9″ (the length of the skirt)
Bodice – two pieces 14″ wide x 11″ long
Sleeves – two pieces 10″ wide x 5″ long
Finished width of neckline – about 6 1/2″ across
Size 5T
skirt – two pieces 20″ wide x 13″ long (in retrospect, I should have 
used wider pieces, but I was scrimping on fabric)
bodice – two pieces 17″ wide x 14″ long
sleeves – two pieces 12″ wide x 6″ long
Finished width of neckline – about 9″ across
1/4″ seam allowances
Alrighty, so cut your pieces.  Stack the bodice pieces and fold them in half (bringing the sides together).  Stack the sleeve pieces and fold them in half.  Cut an armhole from the bodice and sleeve pieces.  If you’re not sure of the sizing on this, grab a shirt from your daughter’s stash, turn it inside out and use that armhole shape as a guide.  
Next, match the armholes of the sleeves with the bodice front, right sides together and sew.  Match up the other side of the sleeves to the bodice back and sew.  Serge seams if you wish.  
 Your bodice should now look like this:
Next, turn right sides together and sew down the sleeves and sides.  Serge if you wish. 
Set the bodice aside and stitch together the skirt pieces along the sides.  Serge.
 Sew two rows of gathering stitches around the top of the skirt.  
Put a pin in the center front and center back of the skirt; place pins at the center bottom in the front and back of the bodice as well.  This will help you gather your skirt up evenly. 
To attach the skirt to the bodice, pin right sides and raw edges together at the sides, and pull up bobbin threads on your gathering stitches until the skirt matches up with the bodice.  Match your center pins in the front and the back and spread the gathers evenly all the way around.  Pin well.  
Stitch between the two gathering stitches using a regular stitch.  Remove pins and gathering stitches.  Serge if you wish and press seams AWAY from the bodice.  
Let’s finish the top of the dress and the ends of the sleeves.  I used a rolled hem with my serger, which took all of about 30 seconds – awesome!  
Now, we’ll add some shirring.  If you’re not familiar with shirring, it’s easy and oh-so-satisfying, so give it a try.  You can read specific instructions for shirring in my Simple Shirred Top tutorial.  For this dress, I shirred:
one row around each sleeve end – 1/4″ from the rolled hem.
three rows around the neckline – beginning 1/4″ from the neckline
four rows around the waist – beginning 1/4″ above the skirt seam and not stitching through the seam allowances (that’s why you pressed them down).
Now, steam that shirring and watch it shrink up – that’s the best part!!
To finish the hem of the skirt, I added trim, which is my favorite way to finish a skirt or dress – it’s so quick.  Serge the raw edge of the skirt bottom.  Line up the trim, matching raw edges, and stitch it down all the way around the dress.  
Then, turn the trim under and press the hem of the dress (if you use a synthetic trim, be careful that your iron doesn’t touch and melt the trim).  
Topstitch along the edge (not shown).  DONE!!

 Other posts for Vintage Circus Party include:

Circus Hat How-To
Comments on all posts this week will be entered for a chance to win this dress, as well as a few other circus goodies.
Tomorrow, I’ll give you a rundown of where I found some of these supplies.  I had a few questions about the glass bottles.  Anything else in particular you’re wanting more information on?  


  1. Nichole says

    Okay, I’ve been waiting for the dress info! I adore this! The blue and yellow just pops, and is fun and classic at the same time!

    I’m really enjoying these posts…I’m curious about your cupcake wrapper location?

    Thank you for taking the time to pull this all together for us!

  2. The Wade Family says

    I love this dress! Thanks for the tutorial – I’ve never done shirring before, but this makes me eager to try it.

  3. DjM says

    This is awesome, Thank you for sucha great tute too so whoever doesn’t win can make their own. I love it.

  4. Liz says

    At first I thought this was a shirt and skirt combo…I like it even more now that I know it’s a dress! Okay, seriously, how do your cakes come out so even? Mine are always lopsided :)

  5. Penny says

    Cute party idea. The circus dress is my favorite and I like the little Pom poma on a stick. I’m new to your blog but I love all your sweet ideas.

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